The cynic regards marriage merely as a lottery. The idea of predestination he waives scornfully aside. And, it may be, he is justified. But did not the former part of this romance - the story of Sir Richard Burton's courtship - make him think that possibly his judgment was at fault.
No ? Then let him read this, the sequel, for the story of Sir Richard's marriage, if not more strange, is surely more convincing.
In August, 1856, he asked Isabel Arundell to marry him. On October 3 he sailed from Southampton, barely two months after that summer morning when, in the Botanical Gardens, she had gazed into his gipsy eyes and hailed him as her destiny and her ideal.
His goal was Central Africa, his object to explore an unknown land and find the sources of the Nile. It was a perilous undertaking. And three, perhaps even four, years must pass before he could hope again to see the shore of England. In the meanwhile the news of his engagement must be kept a secret. On this point both he and Isabel agreed.
But for the woman the task of waiting was harder than for the man. He was going to a life of activity, danger, and adventure. But she - she had nought to do save think, and fret and fear. "He is gone," she told her diary - in it alone could she confide - "but had I the chance now, I would give years of my life to hear that dear voice again, with all its devilry." But, not only the voice, even the pen was dumb. News perforce was scant and rare. Burton's road lay through wild parts; he had but few facilities for posting. This Isabel knew. . But, none the less, she listened eagerly for every post, and time could not cure her of the sickening sense of disappointment which she felt when nothing came.
But courage was the birthright of an Arundell. And, in some degree, at any rate, the horoscope cast in the days of her childhood had prepared her for this sorrow. To the world, therefore, she showed a brave face. Love and its sorrow were her own secrets.
In August, 1857, she set out, with Blanche, her married sister, on a prolonged tour through Europe. This broke the weary monotony of waiting. The wandering instinct was strong within her. She enjoyed every moment of her travels. They wanted but one thing to make her happiness complete only - Richard. His absence was the chord upon which, in her diary, she harped incessantly. "I am told there is no land . between us and Tunis," she wrote at Nice - "three hundred miles - and that when the . sirocco comes the sand from the great desert blows across the sea on to our windows. We have an African tree in our garden. And Richard is in Africa."
Indeed, accompanied by Speke, he was fighting his way through territories which white man had never seen before. It was a wonderful achievement, this journey through Central Africa, and Burton's genius inspired it. But he did not reap the credit; this is a way with the world. The facts of the case are controversial. They cannot be stated here. But this truth remains - when Burton returned to England in '59, he found Speke, who had returned twelve days before him, the hero of the hour, and himself an object of suspicion and of scorn. He had expected honour, but found only shame. He was notoriously unlucky.
But had he not told Isabel to expect him in the June of 58 ? Yes - and she had spent an awful year of waiting, for her lover had not contradicted this report. Never a line did she receive from him. He must be dead, she thought. Hope vanished from her heart, and she despaired. During Lent she retired to a retreat in the convent of Norwich. Unless she could marry Burton she would become a nun. She had sworn this long ago. She decided, therefore, now to prepare herself. Perhaps, too, she might find consolation.
At Easter she returned to London; there she heard news of Speke. But Burton, so rumour said, was not coming back; he had decided to stay indefinitely in Zanzibar. At least he was alive; that was something. But why was he not coming back ? What could it mean ? Isabel was beside herself.
Then came a letter. It was long overdue, but characteristic of the man, only a few lines of verse :